The Triple Team: Jazz lose again on this homestand, but Quin Snyder says progress made amid lineup change

 sltrib.com  02/27/2020 09:03:42   alarsen@sltrib.com twitter Follow @andyblarsen Donate to the newsroom now.

As soon as Quin Snyder began his press conference, without receiving a question, he delivered this statement:

While its not the result that we want, obviously, but I thought we gave a really, really pure, good effort. I think you can feel it watching the game. Weve got to make a few more shots, Boston hit some tough shots and we had a couple of breakdowns, particularly when Smart hit those threes. But I saw a team that was committed to defending and playing together.

Do we believe that? Is Quin right? Lets do a pro and con list.

Pro: The Jazz only gave up 114 points instead of 131 points on Monday. Thats better!

Con: But they did it on far fewer possessions. There were only 88 possessions in this game, per CleaningTheGlass, which means the Jazz had a 128 defensive rating. It was 130 in the Phoenix game. I mean, I guess thats better, but not by enough to be positive about it.

Pro: But Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown made a bunch of tough shots. This is legitimately true. Tatum, in particular, was on fire, scoring 33 points on 13-20 shooting, including 3-5 from three. And thats continued a trend for Tatum: he made 8-12 threes last night against Portland, too.

Con: Okay, but there were still so many instances of defensive miscommunication. This was at a critical time in the game, and the Jazz didnt figure out who was guarding Smart. So he just walked into a wide open three.

Pro: But the Jazz usually did better on their absolutes. The pace shows how much better the Jazz did at controlling transition play, allowing just 11 fast break points. They walled off the paint more, allowing 56 instead of 66 paint points. And they didnt foul as much, with only 16 free-throws instead of 24. Improvement!

Con: The Celtics still got their baskets way too easily. In particular, Rudy Gobert wasnt a force inside at all. He is so far below his Defensive Player of the Year best. Do better here.

After considering both sides, heres my take: yes, the Jazz played better. No, it was not good enough to beat contender-level teams. And given that the Jazz want to be that  although this week has put significant doubt on the concept  theres still so, so far to go.

Is it the right move to publicly praise the guys after sub-par play that was still a step forward? It wasnt a publicly popular move, to be sure: people on Twitter are mad about his statements. But it might have the effect of keeping the locker room together on a tumultuous day. The Wizards are coming up on Friday and are a good offensive team, well see if they progress or regress.

Im comfortable calling this a fiasco.

So in the morning, before shootaround, Quin Snyder sat Mike Conley and Royce ONeale down, and told them that ONeale was starting, and Conley would be benched. The media spoke to Conley after shootaround, but we didnt ask Conley if he was starting. But he didnt he seem down or discouraged, and has always positioned himself as a team first guy anyway.

The switch makes a lot of sense, actually. Clearly, the Jazz need more defensive presence in the starting lineup, and Royce ONeale is the only guy who was on the bench that qualifies as that. Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Bojan Bogdanovic are entrenched in their starting positions for good reason, so the bench player had to be either Conley or Joe Ingles.

Interestingly, the two lineups are about equally effective over the course of the year. In 537 minutes this season, Mitchell/Ingles/Bogdanovic/ONeale/Gobert is a +16 per 100 possessions. It is legitimately one of the best lineups in the league. (Admittedly, it hasnt been as good recently, but still.) Meanwhile, Conley/Mitchell/Bogdanovic/ONeale/Gobert is a +14.4 in 299 minutes.

But where I think the difference is made is with the bench units. Ingles played poorly coming off the bench at the beginning of the season  and for good reason, he really needs an excellent pick-and-roll big to play with to be effective offensively. Plus, Conleys strong points are his team leadership with the ball in his hands, like the role he played in Memphis. Having get the ball more in a 6th man role could get him back closer to his last-season peak.

Anyway, mid-afternoon, Snyder changed his mind. It would be Ingles moving to the bench, not Conley.

What happened in between the decisions? I have no idea. Conley said he was napping when the second change was made. Did his agent make a call to the Jazz on his behalf? Did the criticism on social media change someones mind? Honestly, the thought of either of those two factors changing a decision is worse than making a bad decision: you cant let player agents and social media dictate rotational decisions. Did the front office intervene? I mean, I suppose thats possible, but did Snyder and the front office really not have a conversation about this beforehand? Thats also nearly unimaginable.

Did Snyder just have a change of heart? Hes talked about how he doesnt think starting lineups are that important  and I tend to agree  but he had 36 hours to make this decision, and of course, a whole season to think about it before that.

Either way, its a terrible look. First, I believe its just the wrong decision: Ingles should be starting instead of Conley, for the reasons I wrote above. I mean, look at Ingles line tonight: two points on 1-3 shooting, two assists, two fouls, and a game-low -17. Its just one game, but it tends to support my line of thinking.

But secondly, making a change and then changing the change isnt good for anyone involved, either. The players had hours to come to grips with one decision, and prepared in shootaround for that outcome. Then, the rug is pulled mid-afternoon, and they have to handle that? Even if starting lineups arent critical, the whiplash certainly isnt helpful. From an organizational point of view, it sets the Jazz back some, making things look circus-like in what typically has been regarded as one of the NBAs best-run franchises.

All of it was wholly avoidable, too. Oh well.

This is the most frustrating play in existence.

First: the Jazz had a good defensive possession. Terrific work by Rudy Gobert here, to get the block. Good push by the Jazz to get Bogey in transition, good work by Bogey to recognize the layup was difficult and to find Royce ONeale  although theres definitely a travel here, keep that just between us.

Then, catastrophe. ONeale passes up the wide open shot to pass to Conley, who passes up a wide open shot to pass to ONeale again, who passes up a wide open shot to pass to Ingles, who passes up a wide open shot to do nothing with it. Then, Conley misses the iso layup.

Which is worse? ONeale passing up two just ridiculously wide open 3-point opportunities, when he is a 40% 3-point shooter? Or is it Conley passing up an open corner three, a good look, plus missing a layup? Or is it Ingles for not only passing up his open three but stopping the play entirely, the worlds most obvious, awful-sounding record scratch?

Theres no good answer, only three bad ones. While I do think the game was better overall than the Phoenix game, this was the homestands very worst moment.

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